Tuesday, August 11, 2009
Summer reading: "Columbine" by Dave Cullen
One of the things I love most about vacation is long stretches of uninterrupted time to read. Books. At home, even when I have several days off in a row (as I did last week), I always have a million and one distractions (and a pile of unread magazines, which are the bane of dh's existence) to keep me occupied -- so my gargantuan "to read" pile of books is often sadly neglected, or at least very slow to diminish.
Happily, I managed to read FIVE (count 'em!) books in the two weeks I spent at my parents' house recently. And each one moved me to tears, at least once. Nearly all of them had some connection to grief and loss themes of some sort.
Every now & then, I like to dive into a good true crime tale. "Columbine" by Dave Cullen is one of the best I've read -- meticulously researched and highly readable. Cullen is a freelance journalist who has written extensively about the 1999 school shootings at Columbine High School in Colorado over the past 10 years. He delves into the teenaged killers' psyches, and traces their movements in the months, days and minutes leading up to their rampage, and their suicides. He shatters many of the myths that have sprung up around the tragedy and exposes how the local police knew much more than they let on about the killers prior to the event -- and tried to cover it up.
Grief & loss permeate the Columbine story. The different ways people grieve and how their stories have played out over the past 10 years, the role of the media in amplifying the grief felt -- even the disenfranchised grief of the killers' families -- are all explored here.
The character in the story who touched me (and, I suspect, the author) the most was the principal, Frank DeAngelis. The day after the tragedy, he was asked to speak at a gathering of more than 850 students and parents. He was uncertain of what to say, and feeling horrendously guilty that this had happened in his school. As he rose to take the microphone, the crowd leaped to its feet and began cheering wildly. He staggered, and broke down in sobs. I was in tears just reading about it, about his unwavering devotion to his students, and how the tragedy has affected his life over the past 10 years.
Columbine happened less than a year after my daughter was stillborn. One of my memories of that time was reading an opinion piece in the newspaper, in which the writer scorned the rush to provide students with grief counselling. I believe he suggested that the love & support of friends and family members should be sufficient to carry the bereaved through.
Maybe -- in a perfect world. To me, he was missing the point. It's often BECAUSE family members & friends don't understand what grieving people go through that grief counselling and support groups are so valuable. If it's not apparent immediately after the loss occurs, it often becomes so in the weeks & months that follow, as support dwindles and the bereaved are encouraged to "move on" with their lives.
Coming soon (I hope, lol): some thoughts on three other books I read during my vacation -- The Time Traveler's Wife by Audrey Niffenegger; My Sister's Keeper by Jodi Picoult and The Girls from Ames by Jeffrey Zaslow. And, on Aug. 17, another Barren B*tches Book Tour, featuring Moose by blogger Stephanie Klein, which was another of my vacation reads.